Glastonbury film

Rock Doc Spotlight: “Glastonbury Fayre” (1971)

Director Nicolas Roeg was famous for his masterful and idiosyncratic films, often using subversive themes and cryptic imagery. In fact, he already had two of his better-known movies under his belt (“Performance” and “Walkabout”) when he directed the filming of the second ever Glastonbury music festival, an event that has gone on to become a beloved UK institution. Unlike some auteurs (like Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme) who would make several music films along with their features, Roeg was not known for his affinity with the rock culture, though he had worked with Mick Jagger in “Performance” and would later direct David Bowie in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

There was an unworldly aspect to this early edition of the festival that suited Roeg’s sensibility. Consider the esoteric interests of the approx. 15,000 in attendance (the modern Glastonbury has a cap on tickets of about 140,000), which largely consisted of the vanguard of Britain’s hippie/new-age population. Roeg (along with director of post-production Peter Neal) emphasize this “gathering of the tribes” as much as the music up on stage. We also get to see the construction of the first soon-to-be-famous Pyramid Stage. And consider the location, one those vast, tree-dotted English fields and in the immediate vicinity of Glastonbury Tor, the conical hill topped by the surviving tower of what was St. Michael’s abbey. It’s a place important in Christian, Celtic and pagan mythologies. There’s a lot to point a camera at and Roeg’s highly developed visual style is a strong selling point.

The musical selections are a bit of a mixed bag. It starts strong with a couple of numbers by blues-rocker Terry Reid (dueting with soul singer Linda Lewis on the second); great stuff from the guy who almost became the singer of Led Zeppelin a couple of years before. The 1971 edition of Fairport Convention was whittled down to a quartet, but their vivacious brand of homegrown folk-rock fits the occasion perfectly. Led by fiddler/singer Dave Swarbrick, they do “Angel Delight” and the high-wire instrumental “Dirty Linen,” which inspires a mass freeform jig in the crowd.

A lot of the rest will be take-it-or-leave-it for many viewers. Melanie, already a festival mainstay due to Woodstock, does one of her rooftop-shouting anthems. There’s rare live footage of Family, but one’s appreciation of this may depend on how well you can take Roger Chapman’s eccentric vocalizing. Gonzo acts of the day like Gong and Arthur Brown also figure prominently. Brown’s face-painted and (literally) fiery act, rich with occult craziness, extends well into the audience. There’s also a bit from folk-proggers Quintessence, but mostly as background to the antics of the yoga-crazy, mud-bath loving, tribal-drumming, twirly dancing and meadow-frolicking half-naked (sometimes all-naked) attendees. Roeg shows us a crazy patchwork of both hedonistic and religious/spiritual practices, and organized services by groups ranging from Hare Krishna to the Church of England.

But all these disparate elements come together in the rousing musical finale with Traffic performing that old party favorite “Gimme Some Loving.” This is the extended line-up of the group, with an extra drummer and a percussionist as well as co-founder Dave Mason who had briefly rejoined. Behind the urgent lead vocal of Steve Winwood, the band work the audience into a state of jubilation, many of them climbing onto the stage to dance. It’s a celebratory scene of the kind that would be hard to imagine in today’s over-scaled festival landscape of security and stage buffers. There seemed to be less distance between bands and fans back then and “Glastonbury Fayre” is a valuable window back on the beginnings of the festival sub-culture that plays a huge part of many people’s concertgoing lifestyle today. (Available on DVD and in whole or on YouTube)

–Rick Ouellette

I am the author of the 2016 book Rock Docs: A Fifty-Year Cinematic Journey. There are still several copies available (only $12), if interested, let me know in the comments section.


“Rock Docs” Sampler #2, The Bests of the Fests

Rock festivals, especially those in the golden era of the late 60s and early 70s, are the source for some of the best filmed footage in pop music history. The primary reason for this is pretty obvious. The parade of musical talent for 1967’s Monterey Pop, 1969’s Woodstock and 1970’s Isle of Wight festivals is awe-inspiring, especially in retrospect: high-water marks of a genius era. But they are also great sociological snapshots of their time period and often the audience members are just as entertaining as the performers!

Below are five excerpts from my book Rock Docs: A Fifty-Year Cinematic Journey about this important rockumentary sub-genre, with accompanying vdeo clips. For more info about purchasing information this book, please leave a comment below. Thanks, Rick Ouellette

From the review of Monterey Pop (released 1968, directed by D.A. Pennebaker)

There’s hardly a baby-boomer to be found who doesn’t know something of the quartet of near-mythic Monterey Moments: the Who’s pre-punk working class anthem “My Generation” ending in a cacophony of smashed equipment, Janis Joplin’s no-holds-barred belting on the bluesy “Ball and Chain,” soul singer Otis Redding’s electrifying set winning over the “love crowd” in a career peak just six months before dying in a plane crash, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix’s epic eroticisation of the hitherto harmless ditty “Wild Thing.” The Seattle native had gone to England to make his name, and here reintroduced himself to America with a stunning display of six-string mastery that culminated with the famous fiery sacrifice of his instrument.


From Woodstock (released 1970, directed by Michael Wadleigh)

The logistical and crowd scenes that pop up after every three or four songs are every bit as interesting, especially the bravura ten-minute sequence depicting the famous Sunday thunderstorm. It drenched a crowd that had just been galvanized by Cocker’s dramatic recasting of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends,” and thrust the stage crew into the role of reassuring the sea of humanity while simultaneously fretting over the fate of their vulnerable light towers and staving off the possibility of electrocution. When the crowd comes out the other end of this mud-covered crucible with their good spirits intact, their reputation is made.


From Message to Love: The isle of Wight Festival (released 1997, directed by Murray Lerner)

With six hundred thousand rock fans ferrying over from mainland England in August 1970, the third annual Isle of Wight Festival was one of the biggest concert events in history. Unfortunately, the five-day festival turned out to be a financial failure, and the commissioned footage from director Murray Lerner’s crew did not emerge as a feature film until a quarter of a century later. Nevertheless, Message to Love is a documentary that deserves to sit up on the same mantle as Monterey Pop and Gimme Shelter. It contains a wealth of great musical moments; especially notable are clips of both Jimi Hendrix and the Doors’ Jim Morrison shortly before their deaths as well as footage of the Who at the very apex of their career. It is also a clear-eyed view of an event that was supposed to be an English Woodstock but instead descended into utter chaos as the Aquarian hippie ideal knocked heads with the emerging notion that rock music was ripe for mass-market exploitation.


From Wattstax (released 1973, directed by Mel Stuart)

Every music festival film has at least one classic show-stealer and in Wattstax that moment arrives when Rufus Thomas, the perennial Memphis favorite duly advertised as “The Prince of Dance” on the L.A. Coliseum scoreboard, takes the stage. Appearing for all the world to see in a hot pink suit with short pants and white go-go boots, he works up the crowd to such a degree with “The Breakdown” that when he then instructs them to “Do the Funky Chicken,” thousands of dancers storm the football field to oblige him.


From Glastonbury (released 2006, directed by Julien Temple)

The Glastonbury Festival in rural England holds a rather unique place in the annals of rock as being the one outdoor event started in the Woodstock era that has continued—despite a few missed years—straight into the present day, adapting and growing exponentially but still retaining much of its counterculture spirit. Rockumentary master Julien Temple has funneled this considerable history into a vibrant, if occasionally jumbled, film record of just under two and a half hours. He benefits from the availability of vintage early footage (some of it from 1971’s Glastonbury Fayre) and adds in his accounting of the modern festival (Temple shot there from 2002-05) with much attention to the event’s evolving sociology and an extensive sampling of live performances clips. What is just as memorable as this multi-generational musical cornucopia is the thirty-ring post-hippie circus that accompanies it: a freewheeling pagan arts fair and anti-establishment concave that equals or even overshadows what’s on the main stage.